Volcan de Agua is a perfectly shaped conical volcano which dominates the skyline of Antigua, Guatemala. It is a holocene stratovolcano that has not erupted in historic times (the last 500 years). The elevation difference from Antigua is more than 2100 meters. The summit crater can be reached in 4-5 hour walk up the steep slope from the Maya village of Santa Maria de Jesus.
The local Cakchiquel Maya refer to Volcan de Agua as "Hunapú". Long ago, the crater was filled with water. On 10 Sept. 1541, earthquakes from nearby Volcan de Fuego ruptured the lip of Agua's crater causing a mudslide that destroyed Santiago de los Caballeros (the original capital of Central America) and killed many. After the disaster, the capital was moved to its current location, Antigua. Santiago de los Caballeros was renamed Ciudad Viejo.
Climbing Agua can be challenging for beginners. The Altitude combined with some moderately steep sections can leave you breathless. Most people begin their climb in Santa Maria de Jesus. The trail starts at the cemetery. You start by following a pick-up sized road, momentarily paved in the center, that eventually shrinks to the size of a cattle track. This is the area where most of the crime occurs. As you begin your hike up, you pass by numerous coffee and corn fields.
About two-thirds of the way up, the humid subtropical climate "de repente" suddenly changes to high sierra with thick meadows of high grass and thistle with burned out husks of trees and the temperature begins to drop significantly. After a series of steep switchbacks, the trail ends at the base of the collapsed part of the cone. You can set up camp inside the cone. Make sure you always have someone at camp watching your gear. The trail then goes up the rim of the cone to the top.
There are some steep sections along this portion of the trail as well. At the top, the volcano offers a fantastic view of the nearby volcanoes and mountain ranges and the valleys below them. On clear days, you can even see the Pacific Coast. The rim is also studded with communications towers which can be somewhat disappointing, but if you continue around the rim, you can find some wonderful unimpeded views. Total climbing time is about five hours for a reasonably healthy person.
Alternatively, you can take a four-wheel drive up the side of the volcano to an upper parking area where you can begin your climb. This is much safer and shaves some vertical gain off the climb. There is a fee to leave your vehicle.
Major international airlines fly into Guatemala City and Flores. Most flights to the country pass through the North American hub cities of Dallas/Fort Worth, Los Angeles, Houston, Mexico City or Miami. There's an airport-departure tax of around US$30.00. The easiest and most organized entry point is into Guatemala City which has just finished building a new terminal. If you have not arranged transportation in advance (best thing to do), you can hire a cab to take you on the one hour drive to Antigua (be sure to agree on a price in advance, about $50.00). You can also take a local bus to Antigua.
There are three classes to choose from but all are affordable. If you don't mind standing for an hour and riding with chickens in a bus that is packed like a can of sardines, you can take the Chicken buses. They are the cheapest. All buses leave from Zone 1 in Guatemala City. Take a cab from the airport to the station of choice. Try to take a yellow cab if possible but at a minimum take a white cab. NEVER accept a ride from someone who claims to be a cab driver but who is driving an unmarked car! You will not make it to Antigua.
Here are some guides I recommend:
Emanuel Lappala, owner of Wild Guatemala, firstname.lastname@example.org, telephone:(502) 5526-9110
Miguel Arango, Specializes in rock climbing, 7765-2105 home 5395-8141 mobile
There is no charge and no permits are currently required to climb Agaua. However, crime has become a problem on the lower slopes of the volcano. Guatemala will provide a police escort up the volcano at no charge if you request it. Your schedule must be approved in advance to ensure the availability of an officer(s). You must provide and carry their food and water (they carry the guns) and I strongly suggest a reasonable tip when the climb is over. If you use this service, a guide is not needed. If you don't there are plenty of local guides available in Antigua.
There are no restrictions to camping on the volcano and many groups like to camp inside the cone. Bring plenty of provisions and clothing for cold and/or wet weather conditions.